‘TechSci’ column: Rentable goats and healthcare

Jackie Peterson, B&W Staff

Jackie Peterson, B&W Staff

In the Very Important Tech News section of the week, we bring you rentable goats.

Seriously, though. Amazon has started a “Hire a Goat Grazer” program. It’s still in testing, but basically if you don’t feel like doing yard work and/or hiring a normal gardener, you can just hire a goat and its handler.

In Seattle, a similar program called Rent-a-Ruminant LLC started taking orders through Amazon about a month ago and has already received over 100 orders via the new service. The head wrangler and owner will come to your property, size it up, make a grazing plan and give you a price. And then you get to watch goats eat your unwanted vegetation. Or just hang out with goats. But the Head Wrangler has turned out requests to go to parties, according to Discover Magazine, saying she isn’t a petting zoo.

In more serious news, Sweden released the human genome under Creative Commons, which means pretty much anyone can access it. Uppsala University basically bought up a bunch of sequencers last year and recently posted them on their site under the Creative Commons license. Plus, they released the code they use along with it.

Why is this a big deal? Getting a human genome to work with used to take years of work and a whole bunch of money, and now this Swedish university is just giving them away for people to work with.

By the way, America’s ENCODE project is also working toward sharing functional elements of the human genome with everyone, but that’s an ongoing project.

Health is getting more and more high-tech, even without an online genome database. In fact, some surgeries of late have been successfully done remotely with robotic arms. Even way back in 2001, 14 years ago, a doctor in New York performed gallbladder surgery on a patient in France, because surgery isn’t stressful enough yet. But whatever, after that first successful long-distance surgery many more were performed. There’s even a name for them now: telesurgery.

Soon, the military wants to have portable trauma pods that would let surgeons operate on soldiers from thousands of miles away.

These telesurgeries may seem like wonderful science fiction come to make everyone live forever, but there may be some serious drawbacks. Apparently, the routers connection doctor to robot can be really easily hacked, and the video feed allowing the surgeon to see what they’re doing is publicly accessible. A research team — not actual hackers, I promise — discovered that they can not only make the robot’s movements jerkier and slower, but they could take complete control of the robotic arms away from the surgeon. Which, if you’re the one in surgery, is pretty terrifying.

Other technology, though, is a much safer help to the health sector. Three-dimensional printing, for example, has been helping its fair share of people lately. Affordable 3D printed prosthetics are making kids happy, new 3D printed mini-organs can beat just like a heart, a 3D printed liver saved a Chinese man this month, and San Diego company Organovo has expanded from 3D printed liver tissue to 3D printed kidney tissue.

More recently, though, a study has been published showing that 3D printing could save babies’ lives. So far, growing children have proven a difficulty for 3D printing. However, researchers were able to functionally cure three babies who had a life-threatening breathing condition by implanting a splint in their airways. The 3D printed splint was actually able to grow with them, and the first child, who received the splint three years ago, seems to be fully cured. Without the implant, the baby’s airway would have collapsed within days to weeks.

The most miraculous part was actually the cost — the material costs were about $10 per splint, making the overall costs much easier for parents to bear. The design of the splint also allowed for the material to “grow” with the children, since the material started out stiff and became more flexible. The splint also formed a semicircle, so it could expand as time went on.

Robotic telesurgery may still be a bit unsafe, but the health sector has seen a huge amount of growth with more recent technologies. With this new expandable 3D printed splint lighting the way, infants and children could also soon be seeing an influx of lives saved by technology.

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